Monday, December 09, 2013

De-escalation by Loren Christensen

by Loren W. Christensen  

I used the following de-escalation techniques as a police officer and I taught them to other cops in the academy. Do they work all the time? No. When dealing with the human condition, there isn’t any technique that is a 100-percent sure thing. That said, these simple techniques worked more times than not.  

Leave-Me-Alone Stance 

The “leave me alone” stance.
This stance says, “I don’t want to fight.”


The beauty of this posture is that it has all the characteristics of a martial art and boxing stance but is less threatening and can even have a calming effect on some upset people. Here are the elements of the stance:
  • Angle your body so that you’re turned about 45 degrees from the threat. This makes you a smaller target and positions you to rotate your hips into a kick or hand strike.
  • Your feet are shoulder-width apart to provide you with optimum balance.
  • Your knees are bent slightly, though imperceptible to the threat. This allows you to step quickly in any direction without giving away your intention.
  • Hold your hands at chest level, palms forward. This is a nonthreatening hand position that shows the threat and witnesses that you don’t want trouble. When you make small, slow circles with your hands, some psychologists believe it has a calming effect on some people.
  • Maintain a relaxed demeanor. This presents an image of calmness, even when your insides are bubbling. A bully likes fear. Don’t give it to him.
  • Move slowly. This perpetuates calmness. A quick movement that isn’t done for a good reason might startle the attacker and force him to act. Move quickly only when attacking, reaching for a weapon, or fleeing.
  • Don’t point your finger at him or clench your fists. Pointing might antagonize him and fist clenching gives away your intentions.
  • Don’t touch a hostile person even if you’re a touchy person.
  • Unless you’re deliberately reaching for a weapon, keep your hands in sight. You don’t want him to think you’re trying to get to a weapon when you aren’t.

Facial Expression
Maintain a neutral face. Affecting disgust, a hard stare, anger, or fear is like food to an attacker — food that makes him hungrier.

Name Calling
Don’t call the threat a “loser,” “creep,” or “assclown.” To some, such words inflame anger (probably because they know it’s true) and give them more motivation to hurt you.
If the threat is a stranger, you can’t go wrong with “sir” or ma’am.” It might seem strange to call someone who wants to hurt you “sir,” but it does have power.

Your Tone of Voice
How you speak is often more important than what you say. Consider these tips:
  •  Don’t lower your voice too far below what is normal for you. Speak too low and he might think that you’re angry or deliberately challenging him.
  • Don’t raise your voice too much higher than you normally speak because the threat might think that you’re about to attack. The uncertainty in his mind might agitate him or cause him to attack when he otherwise might not.
  • No matter how frightened you are, speak slowly as this can be soothing to a threatening person. It will help you to stay calm, too.
  • In his mind, scaring and hurting you might be a way to get respect. Using “please,” “thank you,” and “sir” might be all he wants to hear.
  • Using a humorous tone is always a risk. Since humor is an abstract, it’s easily misunderstood, angering the attacker and escalating the situation. If you use it at all, and we don’t recommend it, direct the humor at you, not at the attacker.
Don’t say “I’m going to kick your ass,” “I’m going to make you pay,” or “I’m going to call the cops.” You might indeed do these things but don’t tell the person in advance. It will anger him, and he will likely take steps to prevent you from doing it.

Good Words
Using the right words can—can, meaning not always—defuse a violent person. Dr. George Thompson wrote a wonderful book on the subject titled Verbal Judo. I highly recommend that you get it and read it three times. For now, consider these points.
  • Don’t say “Calm down.” Never in the history of the world has this ever calmed someone. Since it’s judgmental and usually shouted, it can easily provoke people.
    Do say, “It’s going to be okay. Tell me what’s wrong.” Or “How can I help?”
  • Don’t say, “What’s your problem?” usually asked with a curl of the lip, ala Elvis, and in a tone that challenges. In a bar, it translates to “Let’s fight.”
    Do say gently, “What’s the matter? How can I help?” or “What can I do?”
  • Don’t say, “Watch where you’re going, butthead!” when someone bumps you.
    Do say, “I’m sorry. My fault.” Say this even when it’s clearly his fault. Hard to do? Sure. But say it anyway, because by doing so the situation will likely pass and be forgotten. But if you provoke him, especially when there is alcohol involved, the situation might escalate, turn violent, and end up in injury, an arrest, and a lawsuit. Swallow your pride. Life is too short.
  • Don’t say, “I’m not going to give you my wallet, you piece of dog __”
  • Do say, “Okay, no problem. Here.” Then toss it away from you and run.

Here are a few more don’ts:

  • challenge him
  • tell him that you’re going to kick his butt
  • call him a name
  • curse at him.
  • belittle him
  • tell him that you know how to defend yourself
  • say, “Come on, come on. Let’s see what you got”
  • ask him, “Is that all you got?” after he hits you

The old “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” adage is a lie. Words are powerful. Words can hurt, encourage, enrage, and incite a situation, but they can also calm and defuse one. Choose the latter. Yes, you might have to lie, swallow your pride and dignity, but by doing so you might buy time, momentarily distract your antagonist from his intention, or even cause him to change his mind.
Losing some face just might save it — literally.


Loren Christensen is the author of two dozen Paladin books and videos, including Fighting in the Clinch, Fighting Dirty, and Fighting Power. Loren was a military policeman in Saigon during the Vietnam War and retired from the Portland, Oregon, Police Department after more than two decades of service. He can be contacted through his website at

My sincerest gratitude to Loren Christensen for his kind permission in reposting his article to my site.

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